Why should we care if the President asks everyone to pray?

In moments of severe difficulties, like we have in the gulf coast area after Hurricane Katrina, there seems to be a parade of government officials and media talking heads offering prayers. Two days after the hurricane hit, Kathleen Blanco, governor of Louisiana, called on people to pray. President Bush has called for a National Day of Prayer for September 16th for the victims of the hurricane.

What could possibly be wrong with that? We all feel for the victims. We all want to do something to help. Why is government people offering prayers or asking people to pray wrong?

It ignores at least 14% of the population where prayer is meaningless and not something they do. It also ignores the 14% of the victims who are non-believers.

The preamble of the Constitution says that “We the people…”, the 14th Amendment says that all citizens are equal and the laws of the land apply equally, and the 1st Amendment prohibits the government from favoring the religious.

An elected official offering prayers or asking people to pray contradicts the Constitution and marginalizes people who are not believers.

Now if President Bush or other officials meet with victims individually and want to offer their prayers, then they are free to do so but to make it part of their official duties is just wrong.

Robert Meyer, writing on the Renew America website, disagrees.

In his article he complains about people like Annie Laurie Gaylor, Co-President of Freedom From Religion, making comments about the uselessness of prayer and complaints from them about officials asking people to pray.

He goes on with a religious lesson trying to refute the old “since there is suffering there is no God” be reciting the Bible verse where God allows his own son to die for our sins:

“All of humanity is born under the curse of sin, and deserves death as a consequence for that sin. It is only through God’s love and grace that any are saved at all. We often talk about those who are innocent, but that concept is only relative to human perception, interaction and agency. The scriptures tell us that none are good except for God.”
God’s Love and hurricane Katrina

So the question that comes to my mind is – Why are we praying AFTER the event? Logic would dictate that if we want to save the victim’s soul then we should pray for them before the storm hit.

In context, elected officials pull out the prayer card as way of soothing people. Sins or God really are not part of the reason they do it.

President Bush could be far more inclusive and support the ideals of this country if he said “Our thoughts are with those effected by the hurricane,” or “There will be a National Day of Reflection for those effected by this tragic event…” Then if he wanted to take time out to pray in private he is free to do so, as are the rest of the believers. Those of us who don’t pray can reflect and think about the event. Then we would truly be united in our time of difficulty.

Isn’t that point of the effort? If so, then why bring God into the mix.

Toward the end of his article, Meyer makes a comment that offended me more than his comment about people with sins deserving to die. He wrote:

“Gaylor’s group should be commended for the small grant they gave for the hurricane relief effort, but she should also be chastised for assuming that because people of faith pray, they don’t help in other constructive ways. If such people spend time with “mystical incantations” in their closets, be sure they pitch in with both hands also. Faith without works is dead. Look at the faith-based groups at ground zero. Isn’t it fair then to ask where all the atheist groups are down there — those who are anxious to sweep away the theological debris in our culture so that we can have a better world?”

Meyer assumes that there aren’t atheist groups “down there”. It is true that there isn’t an atheist relief group in the United States. That is because we work with non-theistic groups that exist already like the Red Cross, Oxfam, and AmeriCares. I am also sure that some non-believers either are working in the area or will be in the coming months or years. We just don’t issue press releases about it.


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One Comment

  1. September 11, 2005

    I think it is even worse than this. Since prayer has absolutely no effect except for temporarily making the person praying feel better, it serves as an excuse to inaction. “Did you donate money, food, time?” “Well no, but I have been praying for the survivors.” See how it works? In this context, prayer makes people feel better for doing nothing. Of course, government officials calling for prayer is rephrensible on many other grounds too.

    I just added your blog to my RSS reader, so it will be easier for me to read regularly. Keep up the good work.

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